Tribute to a life in New Caledonia

Photo by Julie Harris

Photo by Julie Harris

“Live life to the fullest! You’ll go far! Never change – always stay the same!”

These are the things I remember reading in my high school yearbooks over 30 years ago. Another phrase that knocks around in my skull at the moment is, “The little things are the big things.”

And they are.

Our time here is winding down and I find myself stopped in my tracks. It isn’t enough to say I have loved it here or that I will miss it. Words such as these seem but easy, empty, to mutter while smiling, as our friends start to stay goodbye.

Photo by Julie Harris

Photo by Julie Harris

Of course I have loved it in New Caledonia – and with this second stay of 3 years, I have come to love it even more. And I have hated some of it, too. With this last time here, I’ve seen a bit more of New Caledonia’s underbelly – bloated and putrid and needing a good clean. But it has made me love it no less.

Regular readers know I have grappled with the lack of efficiency, with the lack of a true vision, with the slowness of progression on this island. But having traveled to other islands this year (Vanuatu and French Polynesia), I can tell you that New Caledonia is developed, modern, and developing at a rapid rate, in comparison. I do wish it would consider its future in more than just depletion of its natural resources. I do wish it would see the true value of its indigent cultures, its pristine waters, its towering forests, its many endemic species, its talented youth and wise women – and thus its potential for true sustainability. I do hope it will never let itself be bought or raped or poisoned – that it helps us keep our foothold in good, clean living.

I do hope New Caledonia will find a way to peacefully resolve its disagreements over independence – that it will find a way to respect this nation’s people – the Kanaks, the Caldoches and the Metros. That this nation’s peoples will find a way to respect one another, work through their racism, work through their fear, and work through and change this country’s deepening inequality. Work must be done to lower the cost of living and to spread the wealth. Barring such work, I am afraid New Caledonia will see even greater educational and social disparities, greater crime and even greater fear. All of this can be avoided, but an inclusive, far-and-wide-reaching vision is needed.

Yes, I will miss New Caledonia. Some days I ask myself what I will miss more: New Caledonia or the life it afforded me.

New Caledonia has provided us with such an amazing life. If you’re here, you know how beautiful it is, especially as you get up north or off to its islands. If you’re not here, all you have to do is look at these photos. Having traveled a fair bit in recent years, I do think New Caledonia is still an unexplored and under-appreciated island. Its waters are clear, its coral are healthy, it is home to sea turtles, dugongs, tropical fish, sharks, dolphins and passing whales. Its “terre rouge” is just stunning. It is quiet. It is calm. And it is still healthy.

The life I’ve had here has been one of “no stress“. With views like these from my “office” (see below), with walks along the promenade, with dips in a warm, clean ocean, I’ve been able to think, to be and to create. Clown fish have kissed my snorkeling mask and brought me among life’s greatest happinesses. I have swum for hours, yes hours over the last 3 years, with sea turtles nearly my size. I have spent that time you lose track of underwater, just being, surrounded by tropical fish and marine life. I have known what it is like to slow down so much you feel the slowing of your pulse and the utter peace of mind that is always waiting for you to get there.

Photo by Julie Harris

Photo by Julie Harris

Life here has also meant that I’ve been able to live and work in peace, with palm trees, and crystal waters and long, happy beach walks. It’s also meant we’ve been able to:

  • Pet lions in New Zealand
  • Swim with a dolphin and dive into the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
  • See samurai and sumo in Japan
  • Hang out with wallabies, wombats and Tasmanian Devils in Tasmania
  • Witness the splendor of the Sydney Fireworks
  • Stand on the edge of a live volcano in Vanuatu
  • Swim with sharks and rays in French Polynesia

New Caledonia has served as a base from which we could jump, explore, grow bigger and more open, and return. Without our lives here, we would not have known such adventures, here and in other parts of the Pacific. It has been an entryway, a passage, into both a peaceful and exciting life.

Photo by Julie Harris

Photo by Julie Harris

In the end, it is the little things that are the big things, though. It’s the ice cream guy at the Baie des Citrons, it’s the smiling faces who know you by name in the post office, the shops. It’s the judo classes and the windsurfing lessons and the art classes and the walks by the bay. It’s the biggest shrimp you’ll ever see and the no tomatoes or onions for 3 months. It’s the tabloid newspaper and the island radio stations, the twinkling lights at nightfall and the scary drive to the airport. It’s the regular workouts with your friends and the coffees and the lunches at Ptit Café. It’s that turtle who just happens to be there and that day at Ilot Maitre. It’s those trips to Ile des Pins that are forever etched in your brain, in your heart, with Nouka and his family. It’s the “Tata bisous”, and the thought that we’ll always be here, doing what we’re doing, now and for always, no matter what.

Tata bisous, ma belle. I love you and will miss you.

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for New Caledonia Today – isn’t that great of them? Here’s to even more blogging in 2014!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 27,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy Holidays from New Caledonia!

Photo JH

Photo JH

Christmas and the holidays are upon us, even here on the islands. Though it still does not seem like Christmas, as it is so warm and decked with plastic Christmas trees, Christmas is indeed fast approaching (as we saw tonight with Santa at his garden).

This Christmas, we will be visiting 2 more islands – Ouvéa and Maré – and hope to write up our stays there in the New Year. We are looking forward to snorkeling, swimming, exploring the caves at Maré, spending time with the locals and learning what we can about the islands.

Photo JH

Photo JH

Though I haven’t been able to write much the last few months, we’ve been to such wonderful places as The Great Fern Park outside Saramea (turn left towards Farino, once your turn off the RT 1 towards Saramea to Le parc des grands fougeres is my first piece of advice – and my second is go for the whole day with a picnic!), Bourail, La Phare Amédée and most recently (again) Ilot Canard (where you will find the best snorkeling – for tropical fish, sharks, rays and turtles – within 5 minutes of Nouméa).

2013 has been very good to us, allowing us to visit different parts of Caledonia, bringing us more and more appreciation for the island and its people.

We hope that 2014 will bring you as much happiness as we’ve had here on the island in 2013 – and more. All the best for a very happy and healthy holiday season – to each and every one of you!

Photo JH

Photo JH

New Caledonia today: What would you like to know?

Question mark

Dear readers,

I think about you nearly every day. To write for you, I read the newspapers, I talk to people, I learn about some of you from new acquaintances. I receive emails and comments from you, and am eager to respond. Many of you I don’t know, but hope to hear from, one day or another.

More importantly, I have some idea of what you want to read, know and learn about this fair island, but only some idea. WordPress tells me which keywords you are typing in to find this blog, and I can see which posts are the most popular, but that is all I have.

Can you do me a favor, if you like this blog? Could you take 2 seconds to fill out the poll below? To tell me what you most want to know?

I’m no mind-reader, but with your help, I’ll be a better blogger. If your subject of interest isn’t listed below, please click “Other” and fill in the blank.

Thanks for helping me get you what you are coming for, most days, if not all days. Without you, I am speaking to the void. Like a tree in a forest with no one around, if I fall, will you hear me? My guess is yes, but only if I am answering one of your questions with the fall.

Just where and what is New Caledonia?

New Caledonia is located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, just west of Australia and north of New Zealand. It is approximately 16,000 kilometres and 24 hours (flight time) away from France (think opposite side of the globe). Time-wise, New Caledonia is ahead of the rest of the world, with only Auckland (New Zealand) being one hour further ahead: it is currently 9 hours ahead of Paris, 15 hours ahead of New York and 18 hours ahead of Los Angeles. (Side note: it is not always that fun being ahead in time; we get European news 24 hours later, for example.)

New-Caledonia-MapIt has a land area of 18,576 square kilometres, approximately 50 kilometres wide and 400 kilometres long. We are blessed with a beautiful lagoon, calm seas, mountains, rain forests and rivers. Our climate is tropical, with hot and humid period from November to March with temperatures between 27°C and 30°C, and a cooler, dry period from June to August with temperatures between 20°C and 23°C.

New Caledonia has a total population of 252,000, approximately half of which live in the capital city, Nouméa. Only 25,455 are fixed broadband subscribers.

During the “Pacific War” between 1942 and 1946, the Americans occupied the territory, built hospitals and schools and kept the country safe (more on this to follow). The 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “South Pacific” was based on a James Michener novel, “Tales of the South Pacific” which interestingly enough is based on stories from his time on a neighbouring island, Vanuatu. Vanuatu is but a short boat-ride away from New Caledonia.

New Caledonia was a French overseas territory, beginning in 1946. It currently has a special status, due to the Nouméa Accord, signed in 1998. A gradual transfer of power from the French state to New Caledonia itself was begun in 1998, to last from 15 to 20 years. Its independence will come up for public vote in 2014, or later in 2020. Asking around, it is not entirely certain that the people of New Caledonia will vote for their independence, but more on this to follow (as I need to speak with more locals and key in to the local media).

Apparently, “New Caledonia has one of the largest economies in the South Pacific, with a GDP of US$8.85 billion in 2010. The nominal GDP per capita was US$35,436 (at market exchange rates) in 2010. It is thus higher than New Zealand‘s, though there is significant inequality in income distribution, and long-standing structural imbalances between the economically dominant South Province and the less developed North Province and Loyalty Islands (Source: Wikipedia).

What makes it special? Its climate, its quality of life, its rich heritage, its diversity. It is a fantastic place to raise children – it is relatively safe, we live outside, there are lots of sports to do and fun to be had. It is also exceptionally beautiful, as you will see in the posts to come,  a place that inspires, embraces and soothes the soul.